Former Washington Capitals star Peter Bondra teaches youth… (Gene Sweeney Jr. / Baltimore…)
Lacing up the skates might not be the first thing that comes to mind on a sunny afternoon in Patterson Park, but that’s exactly what former Washington Capitals stars and city youth hockey players did in a clinic hosted by the City’s Department of Recreation and Parks and the Capitals.
City Council President Bernard “Jack” Young announced the expanded partnership Wednesday afternoon at the Mimi DiPietro Family Skating Center in Patterson Park, with the Capitals donating 40 new sets of hockey equipment to the Patterson Park Stars and naming the city’s two rinks, Patterson Park and Mount Pleasant, official rink partners of the Capitals.
Capitals alumni, including Peter Bondra, Gary Rissling, Yvon Labre, Gord Lane, and Sylvain Cote, put the youth players through drills during an hour-long ice session. Mallory Richards, who runs the Patterson Park Stars program, equated the day to Christmas for the young players.
“This is such a present for all of them,” she said. “To receive the donation of new, clean equipment is something I’m very appreciative of.”
Sponsored by Baltimore Youth Hockey, Patterson Park Stars is a 15-week-long program that provides equipment and ice-time to city youth free of charge.
Young celebrated the program as a part of his P.L.A.Y. (Productive Lives, Active Youth) initiative, which is aimed toward providing enriching opportunities to city youth.
“I made Recreation and Parks a public-safety issue because I felt that if we don’t keep our kids active and productive, they can end up in the juvenile-justice system,” Young said. “The Capitals reached out to our kids to provide this opportunity, and I hope to continue to work with them.”
While the donation will allow 40 new players to participate, the players who skated with the Capitals alumni enjoyed an experience they won’t soon forget.
Antoine Green, 10, along with Sean Joyce, 8, and Joshua Bell, 8, are all Capitals fans excited by the chance to skate with NHL players.
Joshua’s mother, Erin Bell, appreciated the opportunity the program gave her son.
“My kid has access for 15 weeks to a free program in his community that gives him a chance to do something he likes.” she said. “Plus, he’s a Capitals fan. He’s talked about this every day since we found out.”
The Capitals alumni were happy to give back in hopes of growing the sport.
“We’ve got some great kids here,” said Rissling, who also played for the AHL Baltimore Skipjacks. “It’s really nice to see them developing grassroots hockey.”
Bondra, who led the Capitals to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998, hoped to see the program grow.
“It’s good to have a program like this,” he said. “I hope the kids continue to play because hockey is a great game.”
The Capitals’ partnership with the city’s Recreations and Parks Department began in June when they donated street-hockey equipment to the Chick Webb and Robert C. Marshall Community Centers.
Peter Robinson, Amateur Hockey and Fan Development Coordinator for the Capitals, said the feedback from the street-hockey program was positive and believes the partnership is beneficial for all involved.
“One of our goals is to expand into Baltimore,” Robinson said. “We know that there’s a lot of hockey fans up here, and a lot of Caps fans. My goal in my position is to grow the game of hockey.”
The donation will help the game’s future, but the effects of the team’s presence Wednesday were immediate. After the clinic, Robert Jones, 14, of East Baltimore beamed while telling how much he enjoyed the experience.
“I liked getting to meet all the famous players,” he said. “I never watched the Capitals before, but now I might have to.”